'Historic and hysterical' house flees after tumultuous year

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The Republican-led House of Representatives ended a year of paralysis and dysfunction Thursday with the latest in a series of failures to act on a pressing crisis, rescinding a sweeping emergency spending measure to send another injection of money to Ukraine for its war against Russia.

It was a surprising result, but also a fitting end to one of the most tumultuous and unproductive legislative years in recent memory, characterized by Republican infighting and a slim majority that left House GOP leaders scrambling to do even the minimum necessary to govern.

The failure to reach a deal with the Senate to bolster a key U.S. ally facing off against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia (even though clear majorities in the House and Senate strongly support doing so) only underscored the mess.

Never mind that the House left town without making a dent in a pile of unfinished work on spending legislation to keep the government funded and planned to return after the New Year, with just eight business days to avoid a partial shutdown if they fail. complete it. .

The first House session of the 118th Congress will be remembered primarily for the unprecedented 15 roll-call votes it took in January to elect a president who was then unceremoniously removed from office 10 months later by a Republican mutiny. That left the House leaderless and unable to work for weeks.

“This fall has been a very actively stupid political environment by a misguided and misled few,” said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, a North Carolina Republican who served as spokesman to oversee the election of Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican.

Like more than three dozen of his House colleagues to date, McHenry, a 10-term veteran, made his opinion on the state of the chamber clear by announcing this month that he would not seek re-election next year. On Thursday alone, two more retirees announced their plans to leave, as Republicans and Democrats flunked the House for 2023 and headed home for the holidays.

“It was historic and hysterical,” said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark., ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, who helped block the election of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, as chairman. “In a word, I would say, 'disappointing'.”

The House narrowly managed to avoid complete disasters of its own making. Congress narrowly avoided a calamitous federal default that far-right Republicans were causing by refusing to raise the debt limit without deep spending cuts. It also took action, with no time to lose, to avoid a government shutdown, again fending off objections from the far right as its members continued to refuse to budge without cutting spending and imposing conservative social policies. Their positions proved impossible to sustain with the Democrats in control of the White House and the Senate.

Ultimately, President Kevin McCarthy adopted legislation to avert both economic crises and was forced to rely on Democrats to get the debt limit suspension and stopgap spending bills to President Biden's desk. His acceptance of reality led a handful of Republican opponents, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, to force a vote to vacate the presidency, dethroning McCarthy and sending the House into a dizzying search for his successor.

Speaking for the final time Thursday, McCarthy, who began his career as a rising Republican star in a different era of factionalism in the House, said he would take the same actions again even knowing the outcome.

“If your philosophy gives people more freedom, don't be afraid of losing your job because of it,” he said on the floor as his California colleagues celebrated his stay in the House. “I knew that the day we decided to make sure choosing to pay our troops while the war was breaking out rather than ending it was the right decision.”

The House ended the year with bipartisan approval of a sweeping Pentagon policy measure. But again, it could only be achieved in the Republican-led House of Representatives with significant Democratic support. Far-right Republicans opposed it, unhappy that provisions intended to end what they saw as the military's “woke” policies on abortion, transgender care and racial diversity were removed, and some members of both parties opposed it. They opposed an extension of warrantless surveillance authority.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the Democratic leader, took the opportunity to remind Republicans that what little they accomplished should be credited to Democrats.

“Everything productive that has happened in this Congress, which is not much, because of extremist MAGA Republicans, has happened because House Democrats have led the way,” he said.

The far-right element of House Republicans began the year on a high note, having won significant concessions from McCarthy in exchange for their support of his presidential bid. They saw themselves in the driver's seat on spending and other policy issues. They flexed their muscles in nontraditional ways, including opposing procedural motions needed to introduce bills, which historically have been strict party-line votes. That prevented its leaders from moving forward with measures they opposed. Their party's narrow margin of control gave them power.

McCarthy frequently leaned in his direction, but the path usually led to a dead end as more extreme policies met opposition from both traditional Republican conservatives and congressional Democrats.

On spending, for example, McCarthy bowed to the far right and agreed to set levels below the debt limit deal he reached with Biden, angering Democrats and frustrating Republicans. The conservative stance made it difficult to advance the legislation, and the appropriations process ended in a knot despite the Republican promise to consider and pass 12 individual spending bills.

Faced with the deadlock, McCarthy pressed ahead and kept the government open in late September with Democratic votes. Johnson, who quickly found himself in the same situation, also relied on Democrats in November to keep government agencies funded until January, when the question of a shutdown will arise again.

Growing Republican opposition to Ukraine funding stalled the Biden administration's request for some $50 billion in additional security aid, as House Republicans joined their Senate counterparts in demanding tough border policies in return. to support it. That led to a stalemate that could not be resolved before the House went on vacation.

Rather than give up on what they consider a critical foreign policy priority, Senate leaders decided to hold the chamber in session next week in hopes of reaching an agreement on changes to border policy, even though the success It seemed like a remote possibility. Even if the Senate could reach a deal on immigration changes, it was highly uncertain whether they would be enough to prevail in the House.

There was no guarantee that 2024 would be better, and it could potentially be worse given what will be a pitched battle for control of the House. Both McCarthy and Johnson have tried to appease House conservatives by focusing on impeaching Biden and challenging the administration on other fronts, but internal conflicts seem likely to continue, particularly given Johnson's inexperience.

“There are no real signs that things are going to get better,” Womack said. “In fact, they could deteriorate.”

He added: “The roller coaster has slowed down and leveled out. But just around the bend up here, there will be more twists and turns and some loops and some other tracks that will maybe make us reach for the vomit bag.”

Kayla Guo contributed reports.



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